Photo by Joe Howell.
I tend to better express myself through the written word. It allows me to ponder, wordsmith, and organize my thoughts in ways that extemporaneous speaking does not provide. For me, writing things down has always helped me process things (feelings, emotion, grief, love, opinion, outrage, and fact) in my professional and personal lives. Usually, the words come easily. I love to write (or maybe, as Dorothy Parker would say, “I love having written”), but in this case, I am without words and the words come slowly and imperfectly. But, as Larry would tell me, “Get on with it, Kid, you got this!” So, I’ll try my best, Larry.
How do you sum up a life, especially for a man as brilliant, dynamic, complicated, eclectic, and eccentric as Larry Romans? I guess one just begins to peel back each layer of this complex man and reveal a few pieces at a time. Even with this dissection, it will never adequately sum up the true measure of him. For me, Larry Romans was a friend. That is a title that he did not take lightly, nor one that is bestowed to all freely. If Larry loved you, he would push, prod, nag, encourage, flatter, contradict, argue, gripe, and, if necessary, correct you--usually all within one conversation. He was always the greatest supporter and had a knack of spying great raw talent and encouraging that talent, both in the music he adored and within the library profession. Larry’s music collection probably numbered 20,000 CDs conservatively and is as eclectic a collection as the man who owned it: classical, country, reggae, pop, folk, alternative, and jazz. Man--I’m talking about jazz . . . jazz . . . jazz. He loved good music so much he even named dogs Rosemary Clooney and George Jones. He was a heavy collector of well-known artists. For instance, I don’t think he missed collecting one Ella Fitzgerald recording. But then again, he would collect the obscure and struggling artists as well. His mind was a catalog of all of this. One day at lunch, he asked me, “Isn’t that a Ryan Adams song playing in the background?” When I confirmed that it was, he was tickled with himself that he was beginning to recognize other artists and kinds of music outside of his usual repertoire! When he died, his stepsons found four iPods, each holding about 15,000 songs on it. Just like in music, as a mentor, Larry could spy young talent in his friends and student assistants. He mentored them and helped them to find their life’s work, whether that was to become a career librarian or not. Many of his student assistants later did become librarians and even the ones who didn’t always appreciated Larry’s nurturing and would come back to see him often. His photo collection is full of pictures of his student assistants from the near and distant past, all of whom he nurtured and mentored throughout his many years in Government Information and Media Services at Vanderbilt University.
But our dear Larry was far from perfect. This is something he would readily admit. He even had Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” played at his memorial, which pretty much sums Larry up. Yet, even in his imperfections, Larry could be endearing--well, most of the time. As his stepson York said it best at Larry’s memorial service, “Larry could really be a “pain in the ‘behind’ sometimes [edited for content].” But to that, I say, “Yeah, but he was our ‘pain.’” For instance, in the 11 years that I knew Larry, he never ordered a meal he liked. He always liked everyone else’s better, especially whatever Kevin Reynolds picked. I once told him he should cut out the middle man and just let Kevin order for him always. Yet, he continued to try to find that elusive “best meal!” I think it was his lifelong quest. I always tipped the wait staff a little extra on those excursions. He was also perpetually late, at least in my experience. For example, every ALA Council would begin like this: I would gather Larry’s folder, stake out a place near a microphone on an aisle and save him a place on the end of the row. When he would arrive, hat, coffee, and doughnut in hand, he would set down his stuff and begin his rounds (thus, why we were positioned where we were). He would pick up his paperwork, stroll over to the ALA operations desk in council chambers, chat with colleagues along the way, and then return to his seat wanting me to give him a recap of what he had just missed! He could never be still, always restless--a man living on borrowed time.
Larry was a perfectionist. He was never satisfied with “good enough.” He worked tirelessly to make sure there was constant improvement in his job and in our profession. He wanted ideas presented in the best and most precise way. For example, resolutions on the ALA Council floor were crafted very carefully under Larry’s leadership as Resolutions Committee Chair. He was “ticky” (southern for “meticulous”), and could be critical, but his motivation was always to produce the best product. Larry believed in the old adage of “say what you mean and mean what you say.” He did not abide pettiness well and could get cranky when he perceived that colleagues were grandstanding. In Council, I often likened him to a lion. And sometimes, you really did not want to poke that lion. He could debate with the best of them. Yet, he always tried to maintain relationships, even if he disagreed with you philosophically. I would see him often seek out his “opponent” in Council to make sure there weren’t hurt feelings or to further explain why he had taken a certain stance. He tried to be a peacemaker. Toward the end of his life, Larry told me of his impatience with conflicts that did not matter and general pettiness. He talked about the waste of time spent in bitterly holding to positions, often times out of pride and ego, that would delay in getting down to what truly mattered. What mattered to Larry was his service to his profession. He was very active in the Government Documents Round Table (GODORT) and the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table (GLBTRT). He and husband Mike Morgan established a Stonewall Book Award in Children’s and Young Adult Literature recognizing titles of “exceptional merit relating to the gay/lesbian/transgender experience.” Larry fought tirelessly for library, GLBTRT, church, and political issues all of his life.
Larry was also a fighter. This last bout of cancer wasn’t the first time he had faced this insidious disease. In 2006, Larry received news that he had had cancer which was discovered during his liver transplant. Several times throughout the years, Larry was given a time table counting down to the end of his life. He outlived every prognosis except the last one. He was one of the most determined fighters I have ever seen. Supported tirelessly by the love of his life for 45 years, Mike Morgan, Larry battled all that life threw at him and was determined to live. Many of his friends battling this same disease count him as a true example of how to fight cancer and win. He battled his disease with courage and class, until the very end.
But for me, Larry was a lover. He had the biggest heart and there was room enough for all of us. It was so perfect that we had his memorial on Valentine’s Day. I do not doubt that Larry loved me. I was his friend. Larry loved all of you. You were his friends. For some of you, your friendship with Larry surpasses decades, much longer than mine. For some, you never knew him or knew him vaguely. Still, his impact on us and TLA will go on. Over the past few months, I have heard story after story from Larry’s husband, Mike, his step children Derek and York, our own Kevin Reynolds, and other countless lifelong friends of his in Tennessee and throughout the country sharing what Larry meant to them, from the impact he has had on their lives to the kind things that he would do that no one would ever know—well, until we all started comparing notes. His legacy of caring, for his colleagues at Vanderbilt, TLA, ALA, his church and his community will long be felt. That was exampled by the outpouring of love, sympathy and the sharing of stories when he passed.
So, I hear Larry telling me to “oh, stop!” even though I know he secretly loves the attention! “Huggy Bear,” I’ve got this and I will always carry you in my heart! Thank you for your love and support for me, for TLA, and for all in our great profession. From grateful friends from this association and beyond, thank you, we love you, and we will miss you.